Mexico City

Rubén Valencia, El futuro del capitalismo (The Future of Capitalism), 1977, black-and-white photograph, 3 1/2 x 4 3/4". From “No-Grupo: Un zangoloteo a corsé artístico” (No-Group: Ripping the Artistic Corset), 2010.

Rubén Valencia, El futuro del capitalismo (The Future of Capitalism), 1977, black-and-white photograph, 3 1/2 x 4 3/4". From “No-Grupo: Un zangoloteo a corsé artístico” (No-Group: Ripping the Artistic Corset), 2010.

“No-Grupo”

Museo de Arte Moderno Mexico

Rubén Valencia, El futuro del capitalismo (The Future of Capitalism), 1977, black-and-white photograph, 3 1/2 x 4 3/4". From “No-Grupo: Un zangoloteo a corsé artístico” (No-Group: Ripping the Artistic Corset), 2010.

On October 2, 1968, just a few days before the opening of the Olympic Games in Mexico City, the Mexican army committed a massacre in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in the city’s Tlatelolco area, killing many students. The incident, whose perpetrators remain unpunished, left its mark on generations of Mexicans, including the artists and creators who became politically aware in the 1970s—a decade that Sol Henaro, the curator of this exhibition, “No-Grupo: Un zangoloteo al corsé artístico” (No-Group: Ripping the Artistic Corset), has called a period of camouflaged calm. The people were fed up with the crushing domination of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI). Many artists became committed to social change and expressed this in their work in various ways. Mexico in the 1970s saw the emergence of a number of groups—the Taller de Arte e Ideología (TAI), the Grupo Proceso Pentágono, SUMA, and others—that were directly involved in politics and whose art was a form of protest.

No-Grupo, which was devoid of any sort of dogmatism, emerged at around the same time. The group was active from 1977 to 1983. Though No-Grupo was a collective, the distinct individual voices of its members (among them Rubén Valencia, Melquíades Herrera, Maris Bustamente, and Alfredo Núñez) were clearly heard. The use of humor is evident in such works as Valencia’s El futuro del capitalismo (The Future of Capitalism), ca. 1977—which shows plastic figurines of Mickey Mouse and Goofy holding up a hammer and sickle. No-Grupo also questioned art as a space of privilege and authority. Each of their art actions—called montajes de momentos plásticos (montages of visual moments)—involved distributing materials to the public so that it might participate, rather than being a passive entity. In the Primer concierto de música plástica (First Concert of Visual Music), held in 1979, for instance, they passed around a large brown paper bag inside of which were other paper bags, thus generating a sort of chain of interlinked sounds. They attempted to valorize human action, which is by definition fleeting; they criticized the fetishization of the object, using cheap materials. On another occasion, also in 1979, they welcomed an audience with lunch boxes full of breakfast fare, stating that food was more important than art. They repudiated canons and colonizing discourses imported from elsewhere, as well as the growing power of the art market.

No-Grupo was influenced by the Colombian Movimiento 19 de abril (aka M-19), specifically its sense of political struggle. In one irreverent act performed in 1974, M-19 stole Simón Bolívar’s sword, leaving the message, “Bolívar, your sword returns to the struggle.” That is just the sort of artistic-conceptual action that No-Grupo valued. Impeccably presented, this exhibition had a clear educational objective due to the widespread forgetfulness about No-Grupo in Mexico. It brought together a large selection of documents, including posters, photographs, publications, videos, handbills, and more. It would be easy to label groups like No-Grupo as ideological conceptualists, but that would be reductive; the reality of this art vastly exceeds any such interpretive corset.

Juan Vicente Aliaga

Translated from Spanish by Jane Brodie.